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Old 08-21-2007, 09:54 PM
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DOH! Sewing Machine Revelation! - well, at least to me...

***WARNING! LONG POST ALERT!***


If you're new to sewing, like I am, and are getting frustrated with your machine when it comes to setting the tension on the upper thread, read on. If you're an old pro who needs a good laugh, or who likes to watch newbies figure out their own screw-ups, read on.

As some of you know, I'm taking an Automotive Upholstery class at our local Community College this semester. I picked up my book for the class today (Automotive Upholstery Handbook by Don Taylor) and decided to thumb through it a bit. I got to the section in Chapter 2 about threading your machine and this is the first paragraph:

"Before you jump in and start sewing, you must learn to thread your machine. Reach around behind the machine and raise the presser bar lifter until it locks into place. This raises the presser foot and needle foot. It also opens the upper thread tensioner."

Now some of you might also know that I've been fighting with thread tensioning on my Juki LU-562. When I read the last sentence of that paragraph, the little light bulb went off in my head, and I groaned, "NOOOOO!" I ran outside and got on my Juki, lifted the presser bar lifter while watching the upper tensioning disks, and shazam! It ding dong sure did open up the upper thread tensioner!

I've had a problem with the thread jumping out from in between the tensioning disks, wrapping around the knurled knob on the tensioner, and just in general changing tensions at random while I try to sew - and usually at the worst time.

Just to make sure that I wasn't blind, stoned, or just stupid, I got out my Juki manual, and looked up Machine Threading. It does have a threading diagram, showing you the correct path the thread is supposed to take through the machine, but nowhere in the entire book does it say anything about lifting that stinkin' presser bar lifter before you thread the machine! I guess that book was written for somebody who already knew how to sew, and the author figured a real trimmer wouldn't need to be told that. Well, thank you very much the friendly folks at Juki! That's the kind of thing a newbie like me needs to know!

Just to check things out, I re-threaded the machine (lifting the presser bar lifter until I had it threaded, then lowering it back down) then fired it up and gave it a shot. It's a totally different machine! I can use this! All that frustration immediately vanished. I did have to reset the tension on the upper thread while trying it out, but that was a piece of cake as compared to what I had been going through. I set it once and it stayed set! I had been re-tensioning or re-threading my upper thread 3 or 4 times per use.

Now I know some of you old pros at this are out there saying, "Well, duh - who didn't know that?" I'm standing here, waving both arms, pointing to myself.

It's always little stuff like this that bites me where it hurts most. It's also little facts, tips, and tricks like this that the pros know and us total newbies have no clue about that are the most useful. I'm posting this so that nobody else who reads it goes through the hair pulling sessions I went through when it comes to setting the tension on the upper thread.

Deep breath - all better...

Dusty

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Old 08-22-2007, 07:30 AM
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Dusty: The reason for that happening, (it also happens when you lift the foot with the knee lever), is to release the top thread so when you are taking the work off the machine it doesn't fray or break the thread or break the needle. It has nothing to do with the tension. In fact, the manual for my machine says just the opposite: "Before adjusting the tension of the upper (needle) thread, be certain that the presser foot is let down and not in lifted position". If you think about it, if you open up the tension discs that would let you thread the machine easier, but would make it almost impossible to get the top tension right. Once the foot is let down, all your adjustments would be screwed up, right? Sometimes, the thread gets twisted just from going through the machine for an extended period of time and jumps out of the tension mechanism. When you re-threaded the machine, you probably untwisted the thread and that's the improvement you saw.

I've worked in production sewing rooms using Pfaff, Consew, Singer, and very expensive Adler sewing machines that automatically cut the thread off for you when you tilted the foot treadle backward, and none of them required lifting the lever to tension the machine, so that is news to me.
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Old 08-22-2007, 09:54 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DanTwoLakes
I've worked in production sewing rooms using Pfaff, Consew, Singer, and very expensive Adler sewing machines that automatically cut the thread off for you when you tilted the foot treadle backward, and none of them required lifting the lever to tension the machine, so that is news to me.
Mornin' Dan!

I think we're talking about 2 different things. I'm not talking about tensioning the upper thread per se - I'm talking about initially threading the machine. I never really got as far as tensioning (even though I thought I did) because I was threading the machine wrong from the get-go, and any tensioning I did wasn't really effective.

As I read further into the chapter and got into tensioning the thread, this book said much the same thing as your Consew manual. You have to make sure the presser bar lifter is down before you sew or adjust the upper thread tension. It's only when you're initially threading the machine that you make sure the lifter is locked in the "up" position to spread those tensioning disks enough to let the thread get all the way in between them. I didn't know to do this, and the thread was just tucking itself in between the disks as I wrapped it around. Then when I stepped on the treadle, the thread was (sometimes) popping out from in between the disks because it wasn't seated between the disks far enough from the start. It didn't matter how long I tried to sew, or how long the thread was on the machine - sometimes it did it before I even stepped on the treadle. I knew something was wrong, I just didn't know what it was. It turns out I was threading the machine wrong because of that one little fact.

My beef was with Juki - not anyone on this forum. My Juki manual doesn't say a thing about how to thread or adjust tension on the machine - it just shows you a picture of where the thread goes, and a picture of which knob to turn to adjust the upper thread tension. They appear to assume that you already know how to do all of this. It's just my opinion, but I think that instructions and manuals from any manufacturer should include info like that. Not everyone who buys a product has been using that product for 10 or 20 years, so we don't just automatically know to do something like that.

When you lift the lever on my Juki, the lever goes up and stops, and the disks don't budge. But the lever seems to have 2 stops. If you lift the lever just a bit more, the lever sort of snaps into the locked position and the disks spread open about 1/32nd of an inch. Lifting the lever up and down (or using the knee lifter) like you do when sewing doesn't effect the tensioning disks at all that I can see, until you lock the lever in the "up" position.

Like I said before, this may not be any kind of major breakthrough to anyone else, but it sure was for me. One more piece of the puzzle fell into place, the light bulb in my head turned on, and the machine is a LOT easier to use. I'm really looking forward to starting class on the 28th, because now that I can actually USE my machine at home without fighting it, I know I'll do much better when it comes to learning and practicing.
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Old 08-22-2007, 10:41 AM
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Hi Dusty: I knew that you were talking about threading your machine, but you linked that with improving your upper thread tension. I don't lift the lever to thread my machine, and never have. I guess it's just another personal preference. I also leave the machine threaded with just enough thread to tie the new spool or new color to the section I left on the machine and pull it through that way. The lazy man's way of threading.

I didn't think you were criticizing anyone but Juki.
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Old 08-23-2007, 02:29 AM
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I don't get it.

I've lifted mine up and down ... *fully* ... and I don't see the discs moving at all! Nor have I ever had a problem with thread tensions.

PS - I wish I was taking that course with you, Mark!
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Old 08-23-2007, 08:55 AM
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I guess your machine doesn't do that, Alan. I would imagine there are several models that don't. The two models of machine he referrs to most in the book are the Pfaff and the Nakajima. He mentions the Singer and Consew in passing, but not when it comes to threading or tensioning. He hasn't referred to the Tacsew at all, so far.

As far as the course is concerned, I wish you could join me as well - I could use someone to bounce ideas off of. I'm going to try something similar to what Dan's doing with the Ford truck seat. I have a standard bench seat out of an '83 Chevy pickup. I'm going to use that seat and the door panels as my class projects. Depending on how they turn out (just a standard recovering job - nothing really super custom) I'm going to list them on that unnamed auction site or that Craig's website and try to sell them there. The main difference will be the proceeds from my sale will go to the "Hands-Across-My-Wallet-Fund" to help defray the cost of my tuition and materials.

When we get to the point of actually starting on our class projects, I'm going to start a project journal, and post the tear down, pattern making, frame repair, sewing, and assembly of the seat, and the recovering of the door panels. I'll take lots of pictures of the process, and the finished project before I list them. I'm just wondering what color I should do them in.

I also plan on posting any tips, tricks, or anything else that I learn that I think is worthy.
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Old 08-23-2007, 10:40 AM
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According to my sewing machine mechanic, they all do it. My two machines don't appear to be moving either when I watch the tensioning discs, but I can feel the difference when I lift the presser foot and pull something off the machine. There is noticeably less tension on the top thread.
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Old 08-23-2007, 05:23 PM
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Oh ... wow!

You're right, Dan. I just checked my thread tension with the foot down vs up and there is a huge difference!

I'm looking forward to all your posts, Mark!
PS - The Tacsew is basically a Singer (in style and design).
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Old 08-23-2007, 08:46 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DanTwoLakes
I also leave the machine threaded with just enough thread to tie the new spool or new color to the section I left on the machine and pull it through that way. The lazy man's way of threading.
That's in the book too, Dan! He says that using that method is very common, as it cuts the time it takes to thread a machine down to a few seconds longer than just threading the needle. This is getting to be interesting...

As a side note, Dan - in your experience, what would you say is the most popular color you've been asked to do as far as a straight-forward bench seat recover job is concerned? If I'm going to try to sell this seat, I'll need to cover it in a popular color. At this point, I'm thinking either black or a medium gray, but I don't know if I'm barking up the wrong tree or not. The seat fits a '73 - '87 Chevy/GMC pickup.

The real fun is going to start next semester, Alan. According to the course catalog, "Students work with custom upholstery designs such as tuck and roll, button and pleat, etc. Includes work with convertible tops, vinyl tops and headliners."

My seat project for that class will be a lot fancier, and I can't wait to get some experience on a bow type headliner. As far as a convertible top is concerned, I wonder if they'd consider the half-top on my boat as a suitable replacement...
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Old 08-23-2007, 10:16 PM
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The most common color is basic black. It can be mixed and matched with anything. I'm beginning to see more beige and tan....neutral colors that go with everything. Medium gray would probably be fine too. I do a lot of truck seat repair for one particular customer, and if an insert needs to be replaced, it's done in black or gray.
Threading the machine that way, as well as using pre-wound bobbins and using the 3 basic thread colors (black, white, and beige) for the majority of your sewing saves a lot of time and money wrapped up in thread inventory. The only other color I keep around and use a lot of is red.
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Old 08-23-2007, 10:46 PM
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My truck is (naturally) still with the painter ... it should be finished in 4-6 weeks though and I'm hoping to move into a small house with a 2-car garage (if I can find what I'm looking for) come October 1st. Then, there's a vo-tech nearby and I'm gonna phone 'em and see what they have. I'm pretty sure they'll have a class ... so I won't be too far behind you, Bro'!

PS - My very first upholstery project was a bow-type headliner ... I was only 19 years old and had a '54 Ford 2-door RanchWagon. I took the old headliner out and used it as a template, made new pieces, sewed it all together on my Mom's Singer and it came out great!

About ten years ago, I put another one in for my nephew. He had a '68 Dodge Dart and I put in an aftermarket pre-sewn headliner. A pro-shop saw it and asked who put the headliner in -- they said it was one of the best jobs they'd ever seen!
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Old 08-26-2007, 09:30 AM
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While looking through my sewing machine table storage drawer, I came across an old upper tension plate. This is a standard tension that is on most machines, it's not only a Consew tension. The first pic shows the backside of the tension plate and the lever that is activated when you lift the foot with either the knee lever or the lever on the back of the machine. The next pic shows the tension lever in it's normal position, and the last picture shows how the tension is released by pushing in on the tension lever as I am doing with my finger.
My observation is that the farther the knurled knob that controls the upper tension is turned counter clockwise, the less obvious it becomes visually that the tension discs are moving.
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Old 08-26-2007, 09:46 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dusty82
..... the thread was just tucking itself in between the disks as I wrapped it around. Then when I stepped on the treadle, the thread was (sometimes) popping out from in between the disks because it wasn't seated between the disks far enough from the start.
Dusty: I'm thinking you may have your top tension turned in too tight? The first pic is my Consew 226R, and the second is the 255 RB-3. Both of the knurled knobs are turned out to the end of the shaft holding the upper tension discs, and they were set that way by my sewing machine mechanic. If the upper tension is too tight, it wouldn't let the thread down in between the discs.
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Old 08-26-2007, 11:04 AM
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That's exactly what was going on Dan. But when I backed off on the knurled knob, the thread still didn't go any further in between the disks when I was initially threading the machine. I knew I had a problem with this upper thread tensioning mechanism - I just didn't know what it was or what to do about it. For some reason I thought the thread needed to go in between the tensioning disks further, but again, I had no idea how to do it. Like I said before - my instruction manual didn't help me at all.

When I read that paragraph and ran outside and lifted the presser bar lever, I watched the disks as I lifted the lever. They opened pretty dramatically - it looked like about 1/32nd of an inch to me, but that might be an exaggeration. I did another one of those slap-myself-on-the-forehead-and-groan motions, and everything's been okay ever since. The difference is like night and day. It's a real pleasure to use the machine now.

While we're on the subject of tensioning, please do me a favor and check me out on this to see if I'm approaching it right. I threaded the machine (correctly this time) all the way through the needle. I let the presser bar lever down, then I gently pulled on the thread where it came out of the needle. I tightened the knurled tension knob until the needle just started to deflect (bend slightly) as I tugged the thread, then I stopped. I backed the knob off a quarter turn, then tried a test stitch in some scrap canvas. I fine tuned it from there a bit, adjusting the tension for the fabric, and practiced a bit more on various materials - including some cheap vinyl my wife got me to practice on. So far I've never had to adjust the knurled knob more than another quarter turn in either direction. Am I approaching this right, or do you think I'm starting out with my tension too tight?

Aside from needing a bit of adjusting here and there when switching materials, the machine hums right along as if someone who knew what they were doing was using it. I'm even actually getting used to how fast the machine runs, and learning to anticipate it. I still want to get a servo motor, but for right now I think I'll stick with this as-is until I get used to using it.

Whether you know it or not, Dan - and you too Alan - you've been a tremendous help to me in this whole adventure. Even when you don't think you're helping, you are because your posts make me go back and check my work to see what's going on, what I did right, and what I did wrong. A second look via long distance, as it were… I'm getting to the point that I'm actually starting to know what I'm looking at, and I have you two to thank for it.

School starts Tuesday (for me anyway) and I can't wait!
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Old 08-26-2007, 11:30 AM
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There are a ton of variables as far as tensioning goes. The thread you're using, the fabric you're sewing, the stiffness of the spring pushing back on the tension discs, the way the machine is threaded, how the thread comes off the spool and on and on and on can all affect the tension. If you are sewing correct stitches, equal depth on front side and back side, without gathering the material you're sewing, then your tension is fine. Don't forget, you can tweek the tension by tightening or loosening the front screw on the bobbin case, too.
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